Kierstyn Worthem, a fourth-year Communication major at Grace College, never imagined that she would run the Council of Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) when she applied to Grace. She never fathomed that she would have a groundbreaking internship with Cokiesha Bailey Robinson. And she certainly never dreamed of launching a thriving business from home. But each part of her college experience contributed to her developing legacy at Grace College.
As a first-year student, Worthem walked into college equipped to make a difference. Early on in her college journey, Worthem and a few other students were asked to revamp the Black StudentAssociation (BSA) and start actively giving a voice to college minorities. A few months later, Worthem was asked to be the assistant coordinator of CDI to promote diversity and inclusion on campus. They started organizing additional groups for minorities on campus, using CDI as a central hub for the new structure.
“I had seen the potential in BSA and I thought, ‘how cool would it be for each minority community to have their own BSA?’ I wanted to play my part in creating that space for minorities,” Worthem said.
After launching this meaningful work as a first-year student, she was promoted to president of CDI on campus, to serve as an overseer of the various groups that had formed. Worthem continues to run CDI today, providing insight, motivation, and direction for the leaders and members of these groups.
“It’s life-giving to see the potential in the new programs for incoming students this year,” Worthem enthused. “I love seeing students of diversity hang out with each other!”
This was not the end of Worthem’s advocacy for inclusion and diversity on Grace College’s campus. As she finished her junior year, she began to think about what she wanted to do when she graduated. Because of her role in CDI, social justice had become a loud voice in her head.
So in May of 2020, she started a summer internship with Cokiesha Bailey Robinson, the new Associate Dean of Student Diversity and Inclusion. As the partnership took off, Worthem and Robinson read books, had impactful conversations about diversity, and interviewed prominent advocates of equality and diversity.
“It was a time for us to both be transparent,” Worthem said. “It’s been transformative for me to learn from someone who has been doing diversity work for a long time now. She taught me to embrace my position and not be timid out of fear of being labeled.”
Worthem and Robinson dreamed together of open conversations on campus and spaces to learn and grow in areas of inclusion, equality and diversity.
“It helped us to see beyond our own experiences and into the lives of others,” Robinson said. “It encouraged us, it challenged us, it convicted us. There are so many people that have a voice that needs to be heard. Here at Grace, we desire that.”
As her internship began, Worthem poured her passion into her free time, too. She started researching and experimenting with homemade soap. It was only a matter of time before a beautiful business idea emerged — and Sweet Mango, an online homemade soap shop, was born.
“I love homemade soap,”
Worthem gushed. “I’ve always thought ‘how cool would it be if I could make this?’ You never think you can until you do. So I started!”
Worthem’s Sweet Mango soap is now sold at Belove, a local gift shop known for its give-back model. The shop is well-loved by Grace College students and frequented by the greater Kosciusko County community and beyond. Now Worthem’s soap will be in homes near and far — a testament to the far-reaching nature of her impact.
Kearstin Criswell, Director of Student Involvement at Grace, has seen Kierstyn play an irreplaceable role on campus since day one. “Because we do not have many mentors of color on campus, I believe that Kierstyn plays this role for many of our black female students. I have seen her carry that with confidence and advocate well for them on campus,” Criswell said.
CDI now oversees six affinity groups: the Black Student Association, Esperanza Latina, First Generation, SHE, Veritas, and the Asian Student Connection group. Looking forward, she sees awareness and action growing on campus.
“My first year here, there were barely twenty black students. This year, we had thirty incoming students alone. That blew my mind. Really, I could shout about it! I’m excited that all these groups are here to stay and they’re going to continue past my graduation.”
Worthem plans to finish her senior year at Grace then go on to pursue a Master’s in Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education at the University of Michigan. She will leave behind a strong legacy.
“I want anyone who reads this to feel empowered to talk to minorities about the questions and uncertainties they have. That’s what CDI is for! We need all of campus to engage and be involved,” said Worthem. – from grace.edu